Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Don't Bring A Knife To A Knife Fight - Part 2

We recently discussed the military’s ill-considered path of bringing a knife to a knife fight and noted that we should be bringing a machine gun to a knife fight (see, "Don't Bring A Knife To A Knife Fight").  Fine, so how do we do that? 

There are three things that are needed to build a “machine gun”.

  • Firepower
  • Survivability
  • Numbers

Firepower.  First and foremost on the battlefield is the need for overwhelming firepower.  Firepower can make up for a lot of tactical and surveillance shortcomings (not to denigrate the immense importance of surveillance!).  With sufficient firepower, we don’t need to know where every enemy soldier is and whether they’re right-handed or left.  We simply blanket the suspect area with firepower and move on.  Sniper in the building? – level it and move on.  Enemy armored brigade in contact? – nothing that massed artillery and overwhelming anti-tank missiles can’t handle.  Human wave attack coming? – call for 16” naval gunfire and sit back and watch the show.

Survivability.  It does no good to show up on the battlefield and be wiped out in short order.  Survivability requires armor and self-defense weapons.  The current fascination with, and trend towards, light “jeeps” for mobility is a surefire recipe for defeat especially if one has to fight under unfriendly skies.  Heavy tanks, heavy Armored Personnel Carriers, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and active protection systems are needed for battlefield survivability.

Numbers.  It’s war.  War is attrition no matter how much “maneuver” is applied.  Attrition can only be compensated for with numbers.  Further, numbers can overcome a lack of quality, to an extent.  For example, the Sherman tank’s numbers overcame any quality, survivability, or firepower shortcomings it may have had.

We’ve been so focused on the low end of warfare for so long that we’ve forgotten what’s needed on the high end battlefield.  We need to bring overwhelming firepower, survivability, and numbers to the knife fight, not a knife.


For a closely related post, see "How To Win A War" 


  1. Tim Ferris' new book has this quote from David Hackworth, "If you're in a fair fight, you didn't plan the mission properly."

    1. Exactly what we're talking about!

      of course, that also assumes that you have the necessary personnel, equipment, and supplies. The problem for the US is that the path we're on, relative to our enemies, is going to eventually leave us without the necessary resources. It doesn't matter if know how to plan a mission if you haven't got the resources. Hackworth served during a time of plentiful military resources. That is no longer the case. We've squandered our advantage.

  2. What you have described here is how the Russians go about fighting wars. They have little care for civilians and non-combatants. But in a weird way, overwhelming firepower does save lives, if the persons on the receiving end of it pay attention to what is being thrown at them.
    But instead of growing anti-air assets, artillery, and just general fighting equipment, we come out with revised rules to protect lives, planes that would have been fantastic 10 years ago, ships with no offensive weapons, ships with no ordnance to fire, ships that cannot launch or recover aircraft, the list goes on and on.

    1. That's not protect lives.

      That's just poor design. A well designed close air support aircraft for example, would do much better than any bomber would for close infantry to infantry fighting, while offering the potential to minimize civilian casualties.

    2. "Prepare a curriculum of 'American civil society and democracy'."

      I'm going to go out on a limb here, because I'm not entirely sure what Coffee Man meant, but I think he's suggesting that overwhelming firepower that eliminates the threat, once and for all, saves lives in the long run. Consider how we've very carefully avoided any collateral damage in our "war" on ISIS. By not ending it quickly and totally, we've allowed it to drag on and thousands of people have been killed by ISIS because we didn't have the will to end it when it first started.

    3. "That's just poor design."

      I'm not sure exactly what you're suggesting but nothing I've said limits us to "poor designs". We need designs that are the best balance of performance and cost that we can achieve. This is just basic common sense procurement strategy.

  3. Ironically, going back to my earlier conversation, that's also a good reason to build medium and light tanks.

    They have numbers and are generally more mechanically reliable. You can build 2 medium tanks (around 45t) per 70t heavy and maybe even 3 medium tanks. With light tanks, it is probably 3-4. Mass and cost don't linearly scale at times.

    The other is that smart bombs probably won't last a long war. You will run out of bombs. They cost a ton of money and have long lead times.

  4. I'm going have to disagree with you AltandMain. The army should instead of introducing a new platform instead focus on increasing the capabilities of the ones currently in service. The M1 is currently looking at getting a engine swap for a 1200hp diesel to alleviate the maintance heavy 1500hp turbine. Likewise, the main gun is a 120mm L44, and can be swap easily with the L55 the germans currently use. The M2/3 platform is also looking at similar upgrades for its 25mm and BGM-71s. If anything the M2/3 is our medium tank.

    I personally would argue for more infantry based AT & AA missiles down to 1 of each, per squad in a brigade combat teams.

    1. "The M1 is currently looking at getting a engine swap for a 1200hp diesel to alleviate the maintance heavy 1500hp turbine."

      I'm not a vehicle or ground combat expert so I have to ask, how is a loss of 300 hp going to affect the performance of the M1? Maintenance issues aside, this seems like a downgrade in performance. The pursuit of reduced maintenance is laudable but has to be carefully balanced against performance. A lawnmower engine in a tank would be very easy to maintain but the tank wouldn't be able to move!

    2. You could easily buy a 1500 hp diesel for the M1.

      As for a tank not being able to move, the jet turbine requires a couple of hours of maintenance every day when advancing to clean the filters, something a diesel does not.

      As far as downgrading a 1200 hp engine, that would mean a lower power to weight ratio of course. Lower acceleration and top speed.

      A 1500 hp engine is the solution (most other MBTs in the Western world like the Leopard 2, the Merkava, etc) have one. You could even consider a 1600 hp one to keep the power to weight ratio.

  5. While a performance decrease is expected, the hp-per-ton will still be high, something around 16.5ish compared to the 1500 at its 20ish hp-per-ton. In addition, I'm told it will have longer range because of greater fuel efficiency.

    1. As mentioned, I'd advise a 1500 hp replacement.

      The other question is also the torque of the engine. I'd argue that torque is more important than hp for the engine.

    2. Horsepower sells cars, torque wins races.
      Enzo Ferrari.

  6. There is one other matter, and that is everyone here seems to think that "Light" means high casualties.

    Not always. The lightweight M18 Hellcat was the most effective (as defined by kill to loss ratio) tank destroyer of WW2 for the US.

    Likewise, light forces often won't have to engage heavy forces. I recall once hearing from a former tank operator that light tanks often had lower casualties than their heavy counterparts. Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but still we should take it seriously.

    It's one of the reasons why I advocated for a light tank. In fact, my light tank might even be erring on the side of too being heavy.

    1. Let's not conflate two separate concepts. There is nothing wrong with using light tanks as a SUPPLEMENT to heavy armor with the proper support, tactics, and doctrine. This is what the Hellcat was. It was a supplement to the heavy armor, artillery, air power, etc.

      The second, separate issue is the one I've railed against and that is a movement to an all-light force with no heavy armor, tanks, artillery, or air power. That is the path we're on (to be fair, the Army, at least, seems to be belatedly waking up and rearmoring to some degree). We're REPLACING heavy vehicles, tanks, and artillery with jeeps, not supplementing.

      I believe from your comments that you're advocating supplementing heavy forces. If so, I have no problem with that AFTER WE HAVE ALL THE HEAVY FORCES WE NEED.

    2. The US needs:
      - A light tank
      - A medium tank (45 tons)
      - A heavy tank

      - Lots of artillery (American 155mm is actually behind the competition in terms of range and ability; primarily the M77 and M109)
      - Some form of anti-tank weapon

      I would advocate for a tracked APC as well that is mine resistant (V shaped hull).

  7. It should be of interest to you Atland, currently there are plans to replace the M113 with a M2 variation and to also convert the M109 to a M2 chassis as well.

    The M1, M/3, and the M113 I believe, have an option in their Urban survival kits to have additional "V" shaped armor plating for the bottom.

    For light tanks, are your referring to a suitable replacement for the M551 Sheridan?


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